We all express ourselves in different ways: some through creating things that are beautiful, some through reading or writing, some through listening or playing music. These forms of expression might be verifying of our identity, relieve stress, provide fulfillment, or a combination of those things. Whatever they do for us, I think that everyone might have a preferred way of expression that, when they do it, time slips through their fingers like noodles slip off a spoon in soup. When engaged in other things, the musician might move his fingers to the movement of music, or chords on his guitar, or the artist might see an interesting object and have an intense desire to paint it. You might call these passions, but I don’t want to shift my discussion into motivation and goals, which we also like to build around our passions: they are another layer, another flavor on this Gobstopper of human fulfillment. Goals and motivations seem to be relevant to the construct of success/failure and have a quality of expectation, while expression is not, and lacks that expectation.

The easiest way for me to talk about expression is to talk about my own experience. For me, my preferred form of expression is writing: obviously, right? :) And layered with that is movement and music. What is surprising to me is how much of my life I’ve gone without this insight. So let’ s start off with some questions.

  • Is it valuable to know or think about how you like to express yourself? and
  • How do I go about figuring it out?

Aka, why should I care, and if I do care, what might I do if I’m not sure?

Is it valuable to know or think about how you like to express yourself?

I would say yes. Feeling like you know yourself intimately, have an idea of what is going on in your head, why you might think certain things or act in a certain way, just feels good. This is all bundled into the rubber-band ball of seeking insight. It’s also nice to know what sort of environments, people, and activities can both be a gas pump for our hearts and a recharger for our mental batteries. Maybe the danger of not knowing, and feeling disconnected and lacking fulfillment is reason enough to think about it. I also think that our preferred methods of expression are not static, and multifaceted, so when you think about it, you might go beyond the broad categories that I’ve mentioned. For example, I enjoy writing while listening to music, always on the computer (because I can’t physically write as fast as I think, and I find that frustrating), and I usually write when I am not with a group of people.) I also find myself speaking how I write sometimes, and one of the biggest reasons that I get lost in my runs is that I am writing in my head. But then you might ask, is it really the writing, or the thinking about certain ideas? Or is it the sharing of those ideas with other people? This is where the idea of expression expands. Possibly there is a core that I might label as €œwriting,€ but all of those little appendages add additional value and make the entire experience more fulfilling for me. So expression isn’t a solitary, definable activity, it is a collection of experiences, maybe even tied to ritual.

How do I go about figuring it out?

It’s easy: just have an epiphany, right? The gooey thing about finding insight into yourself is that I’m not sure how to explain it, predict it, other than to encourage asking questions about yourself, both action and thought. I think that insight comes both with choice and chance. First, with adversity: so a tower crumbles before your eyes and you are forced to deal with the wreckage and then figure out how to build a new one. Why did the first one fall? Should you build the same one again, or do it differently?

We could also make the choice to ask questions about our tower, before it falls or draws anyone’s attention (including our own) and this is a lot harder. On a daily basis this might be asking questions like €œwhy do I enjoy this? Why did I do that?€ €œHow do I feel about this situation, how did I express that feeling, and does the expression and true feeling coincide?€ yeah, that’s really hard, because if my tower is doing it’s job of: being a good tower, why would I bother?

Time to pull out my handy – retrospectoscope! I can describe the clues that have lead me to my own dynamic conclusions over many years, and maybe think about them in a broad sense to help you think about fulfilling expression.

Where did the time go? (Flow) Hours go by without you realizing it.

You think about it when you aren’t doing it. (Mental stimulation) I sometimes write in my head, either to myself or specific people. I have even had a few rare cases of mentally writing an email to someone, and then failing to realize that I never actually wrote or sent it, but somehow I solidified it in my mind so strongly to think that I did. I also might hear a song, and want to move like a wild thing, or get my creativity €œflowing€ by turning up the music.

A sudden intense desire to do it. (Compulsion) Not in the sense of having obsessive compulsive disorder and needing to wash your hands and getting anxious about it, but just really looking forward to it, or maybe even using it as a reward. I know that I get ideas swarming in my head and have a profound desire to get them down. I have to write – and it’s almost a tragedy if I have mentally written something and then misplace it in memory. No, not forgetting! I’m a firm believer that people don’t forget things:we just misplace in memory – because the tiniest stimulus or prime can make us say €œoh yeah!€ and remember.

Rocks do fall out of the sky and hit us in the head! (Unconscious processing) And in complete contradiction to most of what I said, I think it’s safe to say that given time, there is a very high probability that you will become aware of how you like to express yourself. So another strategy is to just place thinking about it on the back burner. That’s right, stop thinking about the layers of the gobstopper, and focus on enjoying the flavors. Mmmm.. delicious!